Be Dead, Do Crimes! Commander Magic With Gisa, The Hellraiser

Outlaws of Thunder Junction has Chase Carroll breaking all of their Commander MTG rules! This time, they go mono-black to build around Gisa, the Hellraiser.

Gisa, the Hellraiser
Gisa, the Hellraiser, illustrated by Chris Rahn

Before Outlaws of Thunder Junction (OTJ) came out, I told myself I was taking a break from deckbuilding. Apparently that was a lie, as I have just finished building my second deck from the new set. I have a problem. This is a cry for help and I need to be stopped.

The inspiration behind this most recent brew came from my OTJ Prerelease, in which I got Gisa, the Hellraiser as my Prerelease promo. I never get a good promo, so this was incredibly exciting for me.

Gisa, the Hellraiser

I built Rakdos crimes and outlaws, and while I am dreadful at Sealed, I did end up winning the games I played whenever Gisa got out. She was a powerhouse in Limited, and I really enjoyed the way she encouraged interactive gameplay. I went home and, fourteen hours later, I had a completed deck built around her for my stream.

Like blue and Fblthp, Lost on the Range last week, I find that black decks are very much outside of comfort zone. Since I’ve had so much fun making and playing this deck, I thought I’d share it with you all.

The Strategy

First things first, I absolutely hate playing typal decks. I find them to be extremely linear and they play same-y after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I think they’re fun, but after a while I get bored with them. I know that Gisa is a lord for Zombies and Skeletons, and that’s fun, but I knew I wanted to focus more on consistently making tokens over typal synergies.

Gisa’s key mechanic is committing crimes, which involves targeting opponents, anything your opponents control, and/or cards in their graveyards. I really enjoy the fact that this commander triggers only once each turn. This makes it so you cannot break the game. While some might find this to be a damper on fun, I prefer to view it as a deckbuilding challenge. How can I maximize the value out of something that triggers only once each turn in colors that aren’t necessarily known for having strong token synergies?

In black, we do not have access to enchantments like Parallel Lives or Anointed Procession. In order to get the most juice out of the squeeze, I knew that this deck had to run heaps of interaction, which many Commander decks and players nowadays tend to shy away from in favor of strong commander synergies.


As of now, my deck runs twenty creatures. While this number may seem small, I do want to emphasize that Gisa makes tokens almost every turn. The creatures in this deck range from supportive, typal synergies to ways to commit crimes.

Typal Creatures

Gisa may be a lord herself, but it doesn’t hurt to toss in some typal synergies that help speed things along. Champion of the Perished gets bigger the more tokens you make, Cryptbreaker and Undead Augur draw you cards, and Death Baron acts as a silly little lord (I couldn’t resist running him).

Gempalm Polluter and Zombie Trailblazer are interesting pieces that link the typal synergies and the crime synergies. While both cards care about you controlling Zombies, they also target. The Polluter can deal a hefty bit of damage whereas the Trailblazer serves as a consistent way to target your opponents. 

Gempalm Polluter Zombie Trailblazer

Crime Creatures

Moving on to the crime portion of the creatures, this is where I had the most fun building the deck. I really enjoyed the fact that I could play around with some lesser-known black cards and lean into the creative aspect of this strategy.

Of course, you have these simple pieces, like Blood Artist, Falkenrath Noble, and Orcish Bowmasters. These create small incidents of targeted damage, which allow you to trigger Gisa. Merrow Bonegnawer; Tinybones, the Pickpocket; Tymaret, Chosen from Death; and Withered Wretch also serve as consistent pieces that target your opponent’s graveyards. Hex Parasite serves as essentially a one-mana target (as you can pay zero for X).

Orcish Bowmasters Tinybones, the Pickpocket Hex Parasite

However, my favorite of all the creatures has to be Butch DeLoria, Tunnel Snake. Maybe it’s because this is an uncommon commander, or maybe it’s because it’s from Fallout. While I’m not truly sure why I love it so much, I adore this card because it allows for some interesting gameplay. If you pay two mana, you can put a menace counter on a target creature, turning it into a Rogue. However, this creature does not have to be one you control, meaning you can do this consistently to get triggers for your commander. I find it particularly exciting to find these weird little interactions in black that make this strategy possible.

Instants and Sorceries

When initially looking at Gisa, the Hellraiser, I knew I wanted to run a lot of weird draft chaff-type spells that normally get discarded. There are tons of interesting black spells that fit the criteria, and it allowed me to explore some of the lesser-known cards in black and really enjoy the brewing process. Of course there are such powerhouses as Reanimate, Thoughtseize, Snuff Out, and Feed the Swarm. The weird ones are just way more fun. 

Removal and Disruption

Fatal Push, Snuff Out, Defile, Tragic Slip, Bitter Triumph, Infernal Grasp, Pile On, and Murder are cheap pieces of black targeted removal. V.A.T.S. also serves as a broader form of targeted removal. The deck also runs different variations on hand and graveyard heat such as Duress, Cling to Dust, Cremate, Rotten Reunion, and Vile Rebirth. I really enjoy how cheap and low the curve is on these spells. This deck has a lot of quality, conistent card draw to keep you consistently casting spells on your opponents’ turns.

Infernal Grasp V.A.T.S. Rotten Reunion

Card Draw

Speaking of card draw, this deck has no shortage of it. Of course it runs the typical cards like Sign in Blood, Read the Bones, and Night’s Whisper. However, there are some interesting pieces of card draw in this deck that rely on you sacrificing your creatures. Since you are consistently making Zombie tokens, this is no issue.

Aphotic Wisps, Nighthaze, Nasty End, and Cremate all draw you cards in some degree. However, my favorite card draw spell in this list is the new Pitiless Carnage. This sorcery allows you to sacrifice any number of permanents you control to draw that many cards. When playtesting this deck, I discovered just how fast you pump out tokens. Casting this spell can not only give you a new hand, it can also replenish your army in as little as one turn cycle.

Sign in Blood Nasty End Pitiless Carnage


Lastly, I want to highlight another new card that I feel is a powerhouse in this deck. Rush of Dread is a spree spell that increases in value the more mana you sink into it. When I cast the spell on stream, I was absolutely shocked that it only cost me six mana to make one opponent lose half their life rounded up and my other opponent sacrifice half their creatures rounded up. This spell was a devastating blow and really shifted the tide of the game for me.


All right, let’s talk artifacts. I’ll largely ignore the mana rocks in the section. They are more of a necessity rather than cards that lean into the synergy I’m going for. The only mana rock I find to be actually important is Liquimetal Torque. Don’t let this rock fool you. It does more than produce mana. What I enjoy about this card is that it targets a nonland permanent, meaning it triggers a crime and so triggers the commander. While this might seem like a waste to some readers, I actually found Torque to be crucial in one of the games I played recently. Thanks to it, we were able to destroy an Elesh Norn with a Reclamation Sage.

Interesting Artifacts

Embalmer’s Tools links the typal synergies of this deck and the crime aspect. It allows you to tap your Zombies to target the top card of target opponent’s library. Altar of Dementia functions in a similar way, letting you sacrifice your Zombies to have your opponent mill cards. Mishra’s Bauble might hit the chopping block soon, but for now it serves as a crime piece that gets you a card for your troubles.

Embalmer's Tools Altar of Dementia Mishra's Bauble

Blasting Station is one of those cards that would go inifinite with Gisa if they did not put on the “triggers only once each turn” phrase. I do daydream about having this pop off, but because of the limitations of the commander, it will never happen. I still find Blasting Station to be a particularly potent card, as not only does it help you commit crimes, but it also allows you to significantly ping your opponents’ life totals, or at the very least destroy a pesky creature.

Blasting Station

Lastly, we have a powerhouse of an artifact: Amulet of Vigor. Amulet is amazing in this deck specifically because it fixes one of the main setbacks of Gisa. The tokens she creates enter the battlefield tapped; however, with Amulet of Vigor, the tokens get to untap right away, making you an army of big beefy blockers. Amulet makes a huge difference in your threat level, and I really love seeing the terror in your opponents’ eyes once it hits the battlefield.


Utility can live anywhere in a commander deck, especially your lands. The final main aspect of this deck integrates interaction in your manabase. While these cards aid your creatures, they can also serve as incidental pieces of crime that can generate tokens. Access Tunnel and Rogue’s Passage are commonly associated with unblockable commander damage, and while that may be true, they can also target your opponents’ creatures on their turns. This can be used either for politics or throwaway pieces of crime. Either way, you’re still getting Zombie tokens out of it.

Access Tunnel Rogue's Passage

Similarly, Shizo, Death’s Storehouse is another card commonly associated with unblockable commander damage. It does have a little bit of a limitation, requiring you to target a legendary creature, but I still find Shizo helpful regardless whether you are going to combat or you were trying to get tokens. Desert, while thematic to OTJ, is another way to target opposing creatures. Sure, it might only be during combat, but when paired with your Amulet, this can make you an instant-speed untapped blocker.

Shizo, Death's Storehouse Desert

And finally, we have Bojuka Bog. This iconic black land is a beautiful combination of form and function. Not only does it help eliminate the threat of an opponent’s graveyard, it also targets that graveyard, meaning it triggers a crime, and that creates you tokens. Well some might find this to be overkill, personally I find it to be important to integrate as many consistent ways to target things in this deck. The more ways you can target, the more reliably you can create tokens each turn.

Do Crimes

In all honesty, I’ve found myself very surprised by Gisa, the Hellraiser. When I saw it during previews, I thought nothing much of it past seeing a familiar face. I don’t usually play black and I don’t like typal synergies, so to me, this card was more of a write-off and a cool cameo than anything else. However, experiencing this card in a Limited environment was an absolute thrill and I quickly fell in love with the design.

I know that some commander players have complaints about the new limitations we are seeing with legendary creatures as of late. We are seeing a lot of ‘activate only as a sorcery’ or ‘triggers only once each turn’ on commanders. Some might find this to be a power dampener and a bit of a letdown; however, I find this to be a breath of fresh air in an environment steeped in power creep.

I really enjoy that Gisa gives you the option of leaning into interaction or typal synergies. I like that she doesn’t prioritize one over the other, and lets you choose the kind of deck you want to build and the gameplay you want to experience. Now, if we could only do something about that pesky ward. Happy crimes, deckbuilders.


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